Jack of Many Trades

C is for Chang'e

Originally posted: 2012-02-10

Not expecting that one, were you? Most of the work I'm doing now is in an Eastern European context, but I spent years practicing a hybrid Buddhist/pagan style that was heavily influenced by Chinese folklore. I still have quite a bit left over from that period that is meaningful and works for me. So yes, I'll be including Chinese deities among the many gods I'll probably end up writing about for this project.

Chang’e is the Chinese goddess of the moon. She is not the moon itself; rather, she lives there and looks down on humanity. The first and most popular myth about Chang’e concerns her immortality. As the wife of Hou Yi, she was forced to leave Heaven with him when he was banished for saving the world. She was miserable about this change of state, and Hou Yi felt sorrow that she was upset and so decided to find a pill to restore their immortality even if they could not return to heaven.

Returning with the pill for himself and his wife to share, Hou Yi hid it, but curious Chang’e found it. She was about to taste it when her husband returned. By accident (some myths say intentionally, out of selfish spite for her husband’s exile), Chang’e swallowed the entire pill. She was so changed by the pill that she immediately floated away from the earth and, too ashamed to enter Heaven, she came to live on the moon.

My favorite myth about Chang'e says that some time after her ascension, a cruel tyrant came to the throne in China. As he aged, he became obsessed with the search for immortality. To stop this man, Chang’e allowed herself to be reborn on earth as a humble maiden whose family was slain by the tyrant’s men. Fleeing them into the forest, Chang’e came upon the goddess Kuan Yin and was given a potion to offer to his majesty. She did so. The tyrant, afraid of poison, ordered her to taste it first. Satisfied when she still lived, he took it himself and promptly fell over dead. Chang’e also died, passing out of her mortal form and re-ascending to her place on the moon.

Because of the deep love and respect Chang’e and Hou Yi are said to have held for each other, young couples traditionally prayed to her for protection or to be reunited after a period of separation. This, and my own experience with her, suggests to me that she didn't spitefully part herself from her husband, but only let curiosity get the better of her. I have learned something about paying a long and painful price for something done unthinkingly, out of curiosity, and Chang'e helped console me when I was recovering from that. She was kind and patient with me, and I think she'd be an excellent goddess for anyone in a similar long distance relationship to call on.